Michell Zappa got this exploration started a couple of months ago when he contacted me via e-mail and sent a link to his Web site, Envisioning Technology, which lays out graphically his vision of the future of technology. That gave me the idea, perhaps a bit crazy in retrospect, of staging a contest to encourage people to think about the future of technology and to display their visions graphically. Well, I got some interesting comments and Tweets about the contest, but nobody went to the trouble of laying out their vision. So Zappa wins the prize: Two Watson travel mugs. I wanted to know more about Zappa (though I neglected to ask if he’s related to Frank). Here are his answers:
Who are you?
I’m a 29-year old designer by trade, but self-taught technologist by interest. I was born in Stockholm, but have since lived in São Paulo, Amsterdam and now London. I’ve always been tremendously interested in where technology is taking our society and how it’s shaping humanity as a whole. I believe technology to be the the single most important driving force of humanity, and what ultimately sets contemporary society apart from our own past. Devising better means of understanding the direction of technology might ultimately allow us to control our faith, even if a little bit.
When and how did you become a trends spotter?
I’ve long held an interest in observing the ongoing advances of technologies, but having the privilege of working at trendwatching.com for the last couple of years has helped me develop the skills if knowing where to look for emerging changes and how to cut through the noise.
When and why did you start thinking in a comprehensive way about the future of technology?
A while ago, I built and presented a keynote about five emerging technologies for the next five years in São Paulo. That exercise, of taking all loose observations I was already collecting and translating them into a coherent story was the challenge that got me thinking about how to further organize my thoughts in the shape of an even bigger framework (and daring to go out even further on the limb of predictions…)
Why did you decide to represent your vision graphically?
The map started out as a outline of technologies, grouped by areas of similarity. When I realized that I wanted to convey more dimensions of data (such as relation, likely importance and how far in the future they’re due), I figured a visualization was the best approach. It hopefully proves how individual technologies are part of bigger trends, as well as makes the different scenarios easier to comprehend. Furthermore, I wanted the map to provoke thought in those who read it and stimulate engaging debates about the nature of technology.
Of all of the breakthroughs you include in your vision, which do you think will have the most significant positive effect on humans?
Cheap, abundant, clean energy.
Energy underpins everything else, from the internet to biotech to war. And there are hundreds of groundbreaking initiatives taking place in terms of better energy production (and storage) around the world. The rise of the abundant energy we have today (which still isn’t cheap nor clean) allowed the industrial and information revolutions to take place. The possibilities of what can be done once energy becomes cheap and clean are endless (and mostly positive).
What’s your goal in publishing your vision?
Mostly getting feedback from other thinkers in the field. The area of futurology is infinitely interesting, and what I hope to accomplish is finding collaborators and better input in more specific fields — after all, the researchers and builders are often the ultimate insiders.
The second, but more important goal, is finding ways for my research to be put to good use. The map, on it’s own, is useless. As is researching about the future. But put in the right hands, and finding the right collaborators, I’m sure intriguing ways of changing the world can be found :-)
What has come of it?
A lot of amazing attention from media outlets and technology thinkers. I’m humbled by some of the people who have gotten in touch with me, and I’m confident the work and research is starting to find it’s way.